How I Define Base Pack Weights

Greetings hikers!

One of the primary focuses of the HikeLighter.Com website is to provide details, education, and gear articles that are primary based on SUL and XUL hiking.

The world of SUL hikers is growing by leaps and bounds every year. Few venture into the world of XUL hiking but for those who do there is very little on the internet at this time talking about XUL hiking. This is, in many ways, a good thing due to the high risks involved in being a XUL hiker if you are not already a well experienced hiker.

I will be honest when I say that there are already too many different ways out there on “weight classifications” when it comes to how to term each of the different weight categories for hikers.

The lack of XUL hikers throughout the world make it even that much harder – especially when the vast majority of hikers are often 10+ pounds heavier and always trying to make it seem like their BPW’s should be considered the next level/category down, to make themselves feel a bit better. Not knocking them, I probably did it myself along the way, and probably still do to this day.

I am by no means the first person to try to come forth with the goal of setting standards for weight classifications. I do not expect the world of hikers to accept and convert to how I define my base pack weights.

So the only real purpose for this page is to explain how I define them.

Again, you do not have to agree with them. You can think they are stupid. It does not really matter either way.

As somebody who writes a fair amount of articles throughout the year, it becomes necessary for me to define my own terminology when there are no ‘set standards’ by which the entire world-wide hiking community accepts.

Again I will fully admit that my own classifications are not “standard classifications” – and that is because it seems nobody out there has been able to really standardize hiking classifications. There are those who claim they have, and you have sites like wikipedia that people keep changing back and forth, but the fact is pretty simple: thus far there has been no true world-wide standardization of hiking weight classifications – so here is how I define them.

I really do not care to argue about these numbers, they are what they are, ‘how I define them’.

Here is the most important part of what I will be trying to get across: I define weight categories the way I do based upon how much skill a person should have, and how much a person has hopefully learned in order to reach each of the levels. Yes, a person can go out and buy their way into a SUL or XUL setup, but time will quickly show to other hikers that they ‘bought their way into said weight level’ and have not done it the right way – by learning and gaining experience as you go lighter and lighter.

How I Define Base Pack Weights:

All weights are “base pack weights” (BPW) – that is: what your backpack weights before perishables and consumables.

HH – Heavy Haulers = Anybody with a BPW of over 18 pounds (8.2 kg).

LW – Light Weight = Anybody with a BPW of between 13 pounds (5.9 kg) and 18 pounds (8.2 kg).

UL – Ultra Light = Anybody with a BPW of 12 pounds (5.4 kg) and under.

SUL – Super Ultra Light = Anybody with a BPW of under 5 pounds (2.3 kg).

XUL – eXtreme Ultra Light = Anybody with a BPW of under 3 pounds (1.4 kg).

SXUL – Super/(Stupid??) Extreme Ultra Light = Anybody with a BPW of under 2 pounds (0.907 kg). This, the most extreme of the extreme, is more about the ultimate test of your hiking and survival skills. While I do not endorse or encourage hiking for the sake of survivalism, you can learn a great deal about yourself and your skills by going on a sub-24, or maybe even a three day hike, with a sub 2 pound setup. It would be, I tend to think, rather difficult to go beyond three days of hiking with a sub 2 pound backpack, unless you are highly skilled in seeking and acquiring natural food and water sources, in all but the best of weather conditions.

It Is About Experience, Not Weight:

To me, classifications are more about experience and wisdom gained from being on the trail and spending a lot of nights outside; not about how big your pocket book might be and what you can buy your way into.

For the record, as of the time I am writing this, I have three different setups. A winter setup that is in the very popular 6-7 pound range, a shoulder season setup that is in the 4 pound range, and a summer time setup that is sub three pounds, and tends to be my favorite setup.

I have hiked with, and spoken with, a lot of high mileage hikers, mostly triple crowners, think folks with 10,000+ miles of hiking, and the vast majority of them, myself included, really do tend to feel that the sweet spot these days is the 6 pound range. With, of course, additional gear for cold winter conditions. Check out this video of Lint (a triple triple crown hiker) showing his gear list, while on the CDT.

Over the last few year I have averaged a little over 80% of the year outside hiking and backpacking and learning. I spent three years going from a HH to a SUL hiker, than I spent two hiking seasons/years as a SUL hiker before I took the plunge and became a XUL hiker. It has been an expensive venture that has taught me a lot about what gear a person absolutely needs to have with them. Beyond that one aspect, there is nothing special about having an XUL setup. Believe me when I say that my SUL setup is way more comfortable – both while hiking and while sleeping.

So, if you are somebody who is in the UL world looking to make it into the SUL world – I invite you to subscribe to my blog and hopefully through the discussion of SUL and XUL gear you will be able to pick up some pointers to help you learn the necessary steps to make your hike just a bit lighter!

13 thoughts on “How I Define Base Pack Weights

  1. I did it John! Thanks to help from you and a fellow backpacker who has gone the way of the UL’r I’ m now at a BPW of 7 lbs! And loving it!

    1. Huge congratz Mike!! The 6p2oz through 7p12oz pounds range is my favorite spot these days for long distance hiking!! It gives a hiker a bit of extra comfort yet keeps the volume/bulk down to a reasonable amount!

  2. Hey John,

    I love reading your articles/reviews and have learned a ton from them. I thought I would finally give you proper credit where it’s due.

    Regarding BPW, do you count what you are wearing when hiking? Many people have different answers to this question. I guess most hikers don’t since you would have to hike naked to be in the XUL range. The good news is after years of trial and error, I have reached the sub 5-pound mark for some of my 3-season hikes. I’ve never considered myself a UL or SUL hiker, just a minimalist.

    I remember thinking during one overnight years ago when I was in college, “I want to feel as light and free on longer trips as I do on my dayhikes.”

    Couple that feeling with a 3 year around the world trip after graduating, and I started learning what I really needed and what I could leave at home.

    You are so very right that deep pockets cannot substitute for real-world experience. I’ve carried too much and I’ve carried too little. I’ve learned from both scenarios. Now I like to think I carry just enough.

    Happy trails!

    1. I’m replying to my own comment. I read through many of your articles and realized you do not count what you are wearing towards BPW. I’m curious whereabouts you live in the redwoods. I live east of Santa Cruz and hike in parks like Big Basin, etc. There are several hundred miles of awesome trails around here. Are you further north, towards the Jedediah Smith/Humboldt region?

      I’ve been blessed to travel all over the world, and the redwoods are still my favorite environment in which to backpack. They make me feel small and insignificant, but in a good way, if that makes sense. They leave me awestruck. I need to head back up near the border for some old-growth hiking.

      1. I live in Eureka. Trees and forest up here are a lot nicer (I feel) than the Southern ones. Regardless, hiking in any Redwoods is something we should all consider a privilege each and every time. Huge congratz on getting into the sub 5 pound range!!

  3. Thank you for this post.

    It helped me get a clearer picture on determineing what is what in weight categories.

    A lot of different ideas out there on what base pack weight should be.

  4. Shedding weight really isn’t hard, but for me a backpacking kit have to keep it’s efficiency, comfort and safety at least nearly intact to be used over time.
    I did a hike a few summers ago with a sub 200 g (sub 1/2 pound) pack, a beer can with top cut of as a cookpot and pack, a small leatherman multitool, a BIC lighter, two fishinghooks and some line, a plastic bag to keep dry when i sat down, and also as a food collector and foodtray and a small piece of steel wire to make a handle for the cookpot.
    Consumables: None.

    The hard thing with this trip was getting anywhere, so much of the time I had to build shelter, keep dry, collect and catch food, make beds of twigs, leafs and grass, and then collect even moore to have instead of a sleepingbag and so on. I could go for 3-4 hours a day and spent the rest of the time working and cooking, gather wood and if I had got hurt, I would have been forced to go straight home.

    So efficiency, quick cooking, shelter and readymade sleepingbag/quilt is needed.
    Comfort, you dont want to spend a lot of time fixing insulation, food and so on, so you need a sleeping pad, food, cooking device (unless you go for food that dont need cooking), raingear and some clothes to wear at night.
    Safety, first aid kit and much of the other things already mentioned falls under this category, you must be able to keep warm and dry.
    There is a minimal packlist!

    1. Hello Dan,

      I understand the point you are making.

      I would make the point that the story you have shared is not hiking. It is bushcrafting or whatever the popular term for that is suppose to be these days.

      The entire premise of your story is for the most part non-relevant to the issue of weight classifications in the world of SUL/XUL hiking, which is what this article, and website, is focused on.

      I do fully agree that we need to be out there with sufficient gear – and most important, skills – if we are going to be pushing the limits of our choice of outdoor activities.

  5. My BPW is 9lbs and that’s with an ENO. I know I could drop the hammock set up and lose 2.5 lbs. It’s a hard choice to make for me though. I love hanging in that hammock and I sleep so well. So, the choice is between comfort and… comfort. As a teenager I went on weekend “survival trips” with a bivy, a can of tuna, water container, and a lighter. Those were super fun… when I was 17. So now, I choose a little more weight for a good night’s sleep. Happy to go from SXUL to UL, because now I appreciate the “luxuries.” Haha :)

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